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WTF Moments in Pop: Jim Reeves in Afrikaans

September 10th, 2010 13 comments

This might become a new series: moments in pop that you really would not have expected. One of these would be the case of the country legend and everybody”s dad”s favourite singer recording an album of original songs in Afrikaans. So it was with Jim Reeves, who in 1963 recorded an album solely for the small South African market.

The linernotes for the re-release of the Jy Is My Liefling album on CD in 1995, written by the album”s producer Louis Combrinck, recall Gentleman Jim”s huge popularity in South Africa, where he was by far the biggest-selling star. Long before the cultural anti-apartheid boycott took hold, Reeves toured South Africa in the early 1960s, with a line-up that included the great Chet Atkins and legendary piano tinkler Floyd Cramer (the tour was plugged as RCA, punning on the artists” label and the initials of their surnames). In the Orange Free State capital of Bloemfontein, a bastion of Afrikanerdom, Reeves took to the stage shouting “Vrystaat! The best!” By shouting Vrystaat, Reeves expressed the archetypal South African cliché.

While in Johannesburg, Reeves recorded a cover version of a popular song at the time, From A Jack To A King by Ned Miller. The single went on to top the South African charts, and inspired in RCA the idea of Reeves recording an album in Afrikaans. Combrinck was tasked with putting together a bunch of songs with lyrics in easily pronounceable Afrikaans, which Reeves could sing phonetically while back in South Africa to tour and appear in the film Kimberley Jim (about an American singer during the 1880 goldrush in the Northern Cape town). Reeves” American-accented Afrikaans is quite passable; he clearly made an effort. The songs themselves are the sort of sentimental Reeves fare that got your dad hooked (and you probably truly put off).

In 2003, almost 40 years after Reeves” death in a plane crash in 1964, South African singer Patricia Lewis pulled a Natalie Cole by releasing a duet of the album’s title track, Jy Is My Liefling (You Are My Darling).

Here is the full album, which I think is out of print.

GET IT!

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Answer Records Vol. 5

April 7th, 2010 7 comments

Country music is a fertile field for answer records. So here we”ll look at three answer records from that genre. Kitty Well”s response to Hank Thompson was a massive hit, a breakthrough for country”s first female superstar that outsold the hit song it was responding to. And I defy anyone not to like, even secretly, these songs “” few things annoy me so much than people claiming categorically that they hate “all country music”.

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Should he stay or should he go now?

Act 1: Jim Reeves ““ He”ll Have To Go (1960).mp3
Gentleman Jim is in a bar when he figures out that only a phone call can get his two-timin” gal back to him. And with that mellifluous baritone the recipient of Jim”s call should not find it difficult to make a decision. To complicate matters, she presently is with another man, which Jim realises rather constrains her from telling him exactly how she feels. So he”ll do the talking, cunningly asking her to put her “sweet lips a little closer to the phone”, to create an atmosphere of intimacy, while he tells the barman “to turn the juke box way down low”. And so he puts an ultimatum to her, all she has to do is answer yes or no. If it is the former, than he “” the he of the title “” will have to be told to leave. If it”s no, Jim will put down the phone, whereafter he”d presumably order the barman to pump up the jam and fill a few glasses for a heartbroken fella learnin’ the blues.

Act 2: Jeanne Black – Hell Have To Stay (1960).mp3
Using the same melody, Jeanne gives her answer away in the title. But it”s not just a simple no. Jeanne explains to Jim exactly why “he”ll have to stay”. See, the night before, Jim and Jeanne had a date, but guess who didn”t show! Jeanne clearly is not one to take such a sleight lightly, nor is she short of potential suitors. Within a day of Jim standing her up “” she demands no explanation “” she has hooked up and ostensibly fallen in love with with the personal pronounced joker of the title, who right now must be feeling pretty smug. Jeanne does not hold back. Once she loved Jim, but he”s messed her around too much. She suspects cheating on his part: even now she suspects he”s “out again with someone else”, citing the softly playing juke box as evidence. But why would Jim phone her if he was already sorted out for the night? Jeanne won”t concern herself with questions of logic. It”s time to tell Jim they”re through: “I have found another love I know is true, and [to answer Jim”s question] he holds me much more tenderly than you. Loving you is not worth the price I have to pay. Someone else is in your place, he”ll have to stay.”

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A vow’s a vow’s a vow…

Act 1: Hank Locklin – Please Help Me, I’m Falling (1960).mp3
Oh shit, Hank is falling in love with somebody he can”t be with, and he cannot be with her because he belongs “to another whose arms have gone cold”.  He has made his vows “to have and to hold” (even if the arms are cold and legs presumably locked), and the mere act of  falling for somebody else would be sinful, apparently (that is some pretty dodgy theology there, I think). So he begs the object of his desire to “close the door to temptation; don”t let me walk in”. In other words, he wants her to go away. But he doesn”t really. “I mustn”t want you, but darling I do; please help me, I”m falling in love with you.” The confusion is evident, poor bastard.

Act 2: Skeeter Davis – (I Can’t Help) I’m Falling Too (1960).mp3
And if the object of your desire is Skeeter Davis (who on her album also responded to Jim Reeves in Jeanne Black’s stead, and who previously in this series featured responding to Ray Petersen, all on the same album), then falling in love can be easy. Skeeter reciprocates Hank”s love, and tells him so. Two poor souls in love but circumstances and morals prevent that love”s consummation. But Skeeter can be of no assistance in Hank”s predicament: “You say that you”re falling, but what can I do? You want me to help you, but I’m falling too.” So might an affair be on the cards? Not likely: “We could never be happy living in sin. Our love”s a temptation, but we just can”t win.” Sigh, no chance then. As you wish, Skeeter. As you wish.

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Answering the MCPs.

Act 1: Hank Thompson ““ Wild Side Of Life (1952).mp3
Hank has been left by his best girl, and he has to tell her how he feels. But he can”t do so by telephone, because she has told him not to phone her (in any case, she might go all Jeanne Black on him should he phone her), and not by letter, which Hank thinks she wouldn”t read. Confronting her face-to-face could lead to a restraining order, if one isn”t in effect already. And with Facebook still almost six decades in the future, Hank shall communicate through the ancient medium of song. And he won”t exercise much tact: “I didn”t know God made honky tonk angels, I might have known you’d never make a wife. You gave up the only one that ever loved you, and went back to the wild side of life.” Where Hank comes from, a honky tonk angel evidently is a very bad thing, a lady of promiscuous virtue even: “The glamour of the gay night life had lured you to the places where the wine and liquor flow, Where you’re waiting to be anybody’s baby, and give up the only love you’ll ever know.” It may be necessary to point out that Hank”s understanding of the “gay nightlife” may not coincide with ours.

Act 2: Kitty Wells – It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels (1952).mp3

Let”s remember that it”s 1952; women”s liberation is not really on the agenda yet, much less so in the conservative, Lawd-fearin” world of country music. So when Kitty is challenging Thompson”s notions of the jezebel, which she has heard on the juke box (obviously not turned down low), she is challenging the whole patriarchal system. So, for starters, don”t blame God for the reality of “honky tonk angels”. It wasn”t Him who created them, but bad, two-timing, untrustworthy men. “Too many times married men think they”re still single. That has caused many a good girl to go wrong. It”s a shame that all the blame is on us women. It”s not true that only you men feel the same. From the start, most every heart that”s ever broken was because there always was a man to blame.” Kitty Wells’ song did not produce a comoplete change in attitudes .A decade and a half later, the women’s rights movement had gathered steam, but in country world, big-haired right-wingers like Tammy Wynette still counselled wives to stand be their man.

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More answer records

Songs of Adultery

March 6th, 2009 7 comments

The theme song for infidelity, Your Cheating Heart, will feature in another instalment, so we will have to do with this bunch of adulterers (all but one men) and the people they”ve hurt (all but one of them women).

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Hello Saferide – Last Bitter Song.mp3

hellosaferide4Annika Norlin has been cheated on with a thin blonde “with a peanut for a brain and volleyballs for chest”. Worse yet, the dude did the dirty deed “with Miss Non-Bitterness” in her apartment. But, bastard dumped, Annika is getting over it by way of carthasis: “Now, this will be the last bitter song. It will be my last, real bitter song about you.” She will find new themes: “From now on, I”ll write about flowers and butterflies, chickens and kittens and shit.” And she”ll “try to find someone who knows I exist”. Which is the best kind of therapy. And, look, it”s working: “I”m feeling cheerful already. I”d like to break his neck, if I may. But most, I”d like to cut off that hair, and cut off that head, and cut off those volleyballs, and I hope she gets her heart broken, and I hope she turns bitter, really really bitter ““ like me.”

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Jim Reeves – He”ll Have To Go.mp3

jimreevesOh, what a set-up. Jim is on the phone with his woman, who presently is in the company of another man. Reeves has her on the phone, establishing a sense of intimacy and communicating instant forgiveness: “Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone, let”s pretend that we”re together all alone. I”ll tell the man to turn the juke box way down low”. And then he goes for the jugular: “And you can tell your friend there with you he”ll have to go.” He wants an answer now though: “Though love is blind, make up your mind. I”ve got to know ““ should I hang up or will you tell him he”ll have to go?” No whining, nor sulking, nor recriminations. Make up your mind, woman, and when you do, of course he”ll have to go.

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Nicole Atkins – Kill The Headlight.mp3

nicole-atkinsJim Reeves is willing to trust again, but that commodity is extinct when Nicole”s man cheats on her. “I know you and you are bound to stray. It”s a foul of men ““ they swear that they”ll never hurt you again, then give their best shots”, but if that is to no avail, “my heart you won”t have it again, so just don”t try.” The relationship will not be healed and it will be over. There won”t be a point in trying to mend it: “Don”t pull over, just kill the headlights.”

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Carrie Underwood – Before He Cheats.mp3

underwoodWhere Nicole Atkins won”t give second chances, Carrie Underwood doesn”t even let it get as far as that. Acting merely on suspicion, she gets her revenge in before the act. “Right now, she”s probably up singing some white-trash version of Shania karaoke. Right now, she”s probably saying, “˜I”m drunk”, and he”s thinking that he”s gonna get lucky. Right now, he”s probably dabbing on three dollars worth of that bathroom cologne.” So, just in case her imagination corresponds with reality, Carrie has “dug my key into the side of his pretty little souped-up four-wheel-drive, carved my name into his leather seat. I took a Louisville slugger to both head lights, slashed a hole in all four tires.” That should teach him to even think of cheating. He also might forget about keeping pet rabbits.

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Kelis – Caught Out There.mp3

kelisIt is fair to presume that the beautiful Kelis will not take back the perfidious scoundrel who cheated on her. She is not well disposed towards him, as the line “I hate you so much right now” may suggest. But, from Kelis” side of the story, one empathises with her. What she didn”t do for him? “Held you when you were sick, even sucked your dick” (which, if both ministrations were performed simultaneously, would require soundtracking by Marvin Gaye”s last big hit). Now it”s revenge time on the lying swine. Going one better on Carrie, “I”ll set your truck to flames, and watch it blow up.” Then comes the taunt: “Tell me: How you go”n see her now?” Aaaaaaarrrrgh!!!!!

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Smokey Robinson & the Miracles – Ooh Baby Baby.mp3

smokey-go-goSmokey is the prince of broken hearts. And here, the heartache is of his own making. He cheated and got dumped. “I did you wrong. My heart went out to play, but in the game I lost you. What a price to pay! Hey I”m crying.” Now he tearfully wants her back: “I”m just about at the end of my rope, but I can”t stop trying. I can”t give up hope, “cause I feel that one day I”ll hold you near, whisper “˜I still love you”.” In the interim, “until that day is here ““ I”m crying.” Would you take him back?

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Mindy Smith – Jolene.mp3

mindy-smithI could have chosen any number of versions of Jolene, from Dolly Parton”s original to the delightful Strawberry Switchblade version. It is heartbreaking how the singer humbles herself before the beautiful Jolene, with her ivory skin, emerald eyes and smile “like a breath of spring”. She knows she has lost her man, who keeps saying Jolene”s name in his sleep. Her only hope is that Jolene might dump him, and so she appeals for her rival”s mercy (and, possibly, self-sacrifice). There”s some point-missing going on: “You could have your choice of men, but I could never love again. He”s the only one for me, Jolene. I had to have this talk with you. My happiness depends on you .”

But what if Jolene truly loves the man too. She might well attract another one, but will it be mutual love? Perhaps she won”t ever be able to love again too. And might the singer not be deluding herself that being with a man who doesn”t love her will be an arrangement conducive to “happiness”? The poor sap has no say in the matter, of course. He is being traded like a piece of meat whose feelings are immaterial. But then, being a man, he might appreciate not being forced to make a liver-curdlingly difficult decision.

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Shirley Brown – Woman To Woman.mp3

Barbara Mason – From His Woman To You.mp3

sbrownShirley phones Barbara to warn her off her “old man”. “It”s only fair that I let you know that the man you”re in love with ““ he”s mine.” Not only does she pay for his clothes and car, but she “loves that man”. And, like Jolene, Barbara is being asked to end it for the sake of her lover”s wife. “Woman to woman, if you”ve ever been in love, then you know how I feel. And, woman to woman, now, if you were in my shoes, wouldn”t you have done the same thing too.” So she warns: “I ain”t gonna let you break up my happy home.”

bmason1Happy? Really? Barbara responds to that in her own song, and it doesn”t look like Shirley”s begging and threats have had any effect, as the title already proclaims. She might not be above to satisfy his material needs, but she can give what he really wants: “I can give him love”. As far as Barbara is concerned, the nameless sap has already made his choice and his bed: “He spent last night with me, where he wanted to be.” So the guy has the choice between a woman with whom he has great sex and a wife who provides all the material comforts. Knowing that Mason”s lyrics were written by a man, how do you think the story will end?

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More Songs About Love